A young assassin poses as the protégé of her target, slowly deceiving him to get close enough to make the kill. Meanwhile, piece by piece, her mark builds a sniper rifle and prepares to carry out a hit of his own. As the clock ticks, Benjamin Kowalsky’s short story isolates two enemies in the Russian Revolution above a crowded theater and uses the methodical rhythm of weapon assembly to set the pace and tone.
“An assembly manual is logical. It’s purposeful,” Kowalsky says. “If you follow all the steps, it leads you inexorably to a particular conclusion.”
And thus in “Yusov Assembles a Rifle,” he steers the reader one boot-clad footstep at a time to a thrilling end.
While people normally associate rhythm with music or poetry, writers know that stories have it, too—rhythm that moves the reader from beginning to middle to end, rhythm that builds and eases tension, rhythm that carefully crafts tone. It’s this rhythm that shapes the best thrillers, and it’s this rhythm that helped earn Kowalsky’s piece the grand prize in the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards, out of more than 1,000 entries in five categories. For taking home top honors, Kowalsky will claim $2,500, $100 worth of WD books and the 2010 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.
The part-time writer from Boulder, Colo., used his rhythmic plot to set the beat for conflict-ridden characters with rich backgrounds. “I really wanted to play with people’s sympathies,” he says. “I don’t like stories where you’re given the good guy and you’re just supposed to root for him. People are so much more complex than that.”
Apart from his short fiction, Kowalsky dabbles in scriptwriting and aspires to become a lawyer—though he says he probably couldn’t ever stop writing, even if he tried.
Benjamin Kowalsky wins $2,500, $100 worth of Writer’s Digest books and a copy of the 2009 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market. Category winners each receive $500, $100 worth of Writer’s Digest books and a copy of the 2010 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.
The Winning Entries